Automating methods for estimating metabolite volatility

Laura K. Meredith, S. Marshall Ledford, Kristina Riemer, Parker Geffre, Kelsey Graves, Linnea K. Honeker, David LeBauer, Malak M. Tfaily, Jordan Krechmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The volatility of metabolites can influence their biological roles and inform optimal methods for their detection. Yet, volatility information is not readily available for the large number of described metabolites, limiting the exploration of volatility as a fundamental trait of metabolites. Here, we adapted methods to estimate vapor pressure from the functional group composition of individual molecules (SIMPOL.1) to predict the gas-phase partitioning of compounds in different environments. We implemented these methods in a new open pipeline called volcalc that uses chemoinformatic tools to automate these volatility estimates for all metabolites in an extensive and continuously updated pathway database: the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) that connects metabolites, organisms, and reactions. We first benchmark the automated pipeline against a manually curated data set and show that the same category of volatility (e.g., nonvolatile, low, moderate, high) is predicted for 93% of compounds. We then demonstrate how volcalc might be used to generate and test hypotheses about the role of volatility in biological systems and organisms. Specifically, we estimate that 3.4 and 26.6% of compounds in KEGG have high volatility depending on the environment (soil vs. clean atmosphere, respectively) and that a core set of volatiles is shared among all domains of life (30%) with the largest proportion of kingdom-specific volatiles identified in bacteria. With volcalc, we lay a foundation for uncovering the role of the volatilome using an approach that is easily integrated with other bioinformatic pipelines and can be continually refined to consider additional dimensions to volatility. The volcalc package is an accessible tool to help design and test hypotheses on volatile metabolites and their unique roles in biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1267234
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
StatePublished - 2023


  • bioinformatics
  • chemoinformatics
  • metabolic database
  • VOCs
  • volatile metabolite
  • volatility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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